Song Zhiwen (宋之問, 송지문, 656-712) was a Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucratic official and a renowned poet. He was born in Fenyang (汾陽, 분양) in Shanxi Province (山西省, 산서성) and his courtesy name (字, 자) was Yanqing (延淸, 연청).
Song Zhiwen’s personality was widely reviled, perhaps because of his associations with other reviled figures. In 675, at the young age of 19, he passed the imperial civil examinations (科擧, 과거). Soon thereafter, Song Zhiwen caught the attention of Empress Consort Wu Zetian (則天武后, 즉천무후, 624-705, r. 690-705). On numerous occasions, he attempted to flatter the Empress Consort, going as far as offering her a chamber pot as a gift. The Empress Consort nonetheless did award Song Zhiwen with the bureaucratic positions of Practitioner of the Arts (習藝館, 습예관) and Proctor of Civil Affairs (尚文監丞, 상문감승). Song Zhiwen also tried to blandish Zhang Yizhi (張易之, 장역지, ?-705), one of Empress Consort’s close ministers and lover (佞臣, 영신). For this behavior, he was banished to the countryside. After he returned to the capital, Song Zhiwen again tried to flatter Wu Sansi (武三思, 무삼사, ?-707), the Empress Consort’s nephew and a high-ranking minister, and was awarded a bureaucratic position. During the short reign of Tang Emperor Zhongzong (唐中宗, 당 중종, 656-710, r. 684), he fell in favor with the Emperor for his talents and was awarded the positions of Auxiliary Academician (直學士, 직학사) and Institute for the Refinement of Letters (修文館, 수문관). There was also one incident where he fell very drunk at a feast, and was rude even to the Emperor. Song Zhiwen also tried to woo Princess Taiping (太平公主, 태평공주, 665-713), one of the daughters of Empress Consort Wu. Sometime after, however, he seems to have fallen out of favor in the imperial court. When Tang Emperor Ruizong (唐睿宗, 당 예종, 662-716, r. 710-712) came to power, he banished Song Zhiwen to Qinzhou (欽州, 흠주). Shortly after Tang Emperor Xuanzong’s (唐玄宗, 당 현종, 686-762, r. 712-756) ascendancy to the throne, the Emperor accused Song Zhiwen of being a follower of Zhang Yizhi and sentenced him to death by suicide with poison (賜死, 사사).
Despite his despicable personality, Song Zhiwen was renowned for his poetry. In particular, he excelled at pentasyllabic regulated poems (五言律詩, 오언율시) so much that they were called Shen-Song Poetic Form (沈宋體, 심송체), named also after his contemporary Shen Quanqi (沈佺期, 심전기, 656-714). Below is one of his pentasyllabic regulated poems, which he wrote on his It alludes to the Cold Food Festival (寒食, 한식). The festival falls 105 days after the Winter Solstice, falling either on April 5 or 6 on the Gregorian Calendar. As the name insinuates, traditional customs on this festival include abstinence from cooked meals and consumption of raw food. Other customs include sowing seeds in rice paddies. Traditional customs in Korea are similar, although the Festival is not much celebrated in modern times.
On the Road During the Cold Food Festival,
Inscribed on the Post Station at Huangmei (黃梅, 황매), Also Known as Linjiang (臨江, 임강), and Sent to Cui Rong (崔融, 최융, 635-706)
馬上逢寒食 마상봉한식 Atop of my horse, I meet the Cold Food Festival;
途中屬暮春 도중속모춘 On the road, I am subject to the late spring.
可憐江浦望 가련강포망 O what a pity! As a I gaze at the riverside’s piers,
不見洛橋人 불견락교인 I do not see anyone from the bridge of Luoyang (洛陽, 낙양).
北極懷明主 북극회명주 The North Star embraces our illustrious king;
南溟作逐臣 남명작축신 The Southern Seas harbor the chased out ministers.
故園腸斷處 고원장단처 My home village, where my intestines were pierced,
日夜柳條新 일야류조신 In one night, the willow trees’ branches become anew.
Horse • above • to meet • cold • food
Roads • amid • to belong to • late • spring
Can • pity • river • bank • to gaze
Not • to see • geographical name • geographical name • people
North • extreme • to embrace • bright • lord
South • sea • to make • to be chased out • minister
Old • garden • intestines • to piece • place
One day • night • willow tree • branch • anew
- Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩, 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 眞(진).
- 臨江(임강) – Old name for Hangzhou (杭州, 항주).
- 崔融(최융) – Tang dynasty poet, contemporary of Song Zhiwen.
- 腸斷(장단) – Literally “to pierce the innards.” Refers to being heartbroken.
- Korean translation available here.